Introduce Yourself To Your Members of Congress

This is the first in what will be a regular series, Your Activism Guide, designed to make feminist activism more accessible and help you take the power you deserve. 

Purpose: Introduce yourself to your members of Congress.

Process: Set up meetings now to drop by local offices (even if you don’t have a specific request, even if the legislator tends to vote against your interests).

Payoff: Existing relationships can bring the most unexpected of benefits.

A few days ago, the American Association of University Women and National Women’s Law Center hosted a Tweet Chat to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which reversed a Supreme Court decision that had effectively gutted the ability to sue for wage discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Joining the conversation to answer questions was Lilly Ledbetter herself.

This is a topic that gets me all hot under the rubber toe caps. Women continue to be paid less than men, and while restoring the intent of a law passed in 1964 was a necessary step, we will not end wage discrimination without a more robust law. A bill exists: It is called the Paycheck Fairness Act. Important provisions include closing loopholes so that employers would be required to demonstrate genuine reasons to pay women less than men, and providing employee protections so you can ask others what they are getting paid without getting fired. Discrimination thrives on silence.

And, last year, Republicans. Then every Republican in the Senate voted to block debate of the Paycheck Fairness Act (barring discussion, not even voting against the bill or amendments!). So I asked the question: All Republicans voted to block Senate debate of the Paycheck Fairness Act. What can we do to engage them the next time?

Here’s what Lilly Ledbetter said:

It got better. Everyone’s favorite (okay mine) advocate and hipster Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro jumped in:

And what they said is absolutely correct. Let’s take this a step further to establishing relationships with your members of Congress now, because the  story I’ll share intersects with this issue (although existing relationships can help you move the needle on any issue you care about). In 2006 I was an advertising copywriter in Minneapolis, not a professional feminist, and I took the time to call Senator Norm Coleman’s office in St. Paul to set up a meeting with a staffer who worked on women’s issues. (One of the things I remember most vividly about that day is how much my coworkers were amazed that I was wearing a skirt, heels and hose for my lunch break trip – hoodies and flip flops were the usual uniform.)

Let’s be clear: I did not consider Senator Coleman my buddy. His actions had a tendency to make my eyes roll – and those were the less noxious actions. I considered him, in a word, hopeless. So much so I would come to work on a second campaign against him in time, on that occasion supporting Senator Al Franken (who took the seat, yay!). I won’t lie, the meeting with Senator Coleman’s staffer was awkward, but I would do it again in a heartbeat and encourage you to do the same. Basically we sat down for twenty minutes or so, and got to know each other. I identified a few issues I was fired up about, and acknowledged that while the Senator and I didn’t agree on much, I would be glad to work together as opportunities arose. We exchanged cards. Bam. Done.

Fast forward two years later to an editorial published in The New York Times in May 2008:

Americans saw the mirror opposite last week when Senate Republicans rejected a far more modest piece of civil rights legislation, the Fair Pay Act. Just six Republicans broke with their party to join Democrats in supporting the new bill, which is needed to counter a noxious 2007 Supreme Court decision that made it largely impossible to enforce the guarantee of equal pay for equal work contained in Title VII of the 1964 law.

The short list of Republicans voting in support of the Fair Pay Act included Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, John Sununu of New Hampshire and Gordon Smith of Oregon. Missing was John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Just weeks earlier, I had been on a trip to Washington dropping off letters with a large group of activists from many states brought in for a Fair Pay Act lobby day at various Senate offices. Most Republican offices didn’t allow us to speak with anyone. We had that experience in Senator Coleman’s office. But then, as we were walking out, I recognized the guy I had met with two years earlier. I called him by name and he recognized me back, and said, Erin! to the surprise of the group. (Apparently he had worked his way up and moved to the Washington office.) This gave the larger group the relationship we needed to break through the front desk filters and make our case to Senator Coleman’s staff. While he could have broken ranks to with his party to do the right thing for a variety of reasons, and likely did, no doubt that conversation with a large group of advocates well prepped to discuss the Fair Pay Act weeks before had an impact.

Relationships really, really count. Even if the member of Congress tends to vote for your interests like almost never. Even if you are not a professional activist (I wasn’t at either of the times referenced in this story). If you are reading this, you care about making the world a better place — so make your relationships now. You really never know when it will come back to help you.

So how do I introduce myself to my members of Congress?

Let’s go step by step:

  1. Look up the local offices for the members of your state and federal representatives – both House and Senate. If you don’t know anyone in an office, use the contact form to ask if you can come in for a short meeting to introduce yourself to a staffer who works on women’s issues.
  2. If you want, invite a few friends to come with you. Whether it’s just you or a small group, decide in advance on three different specific issues you’d like to say you really care about (for example, student loan debt, reproductive rights and wage discrimination). You can research what’s going on in Congress, but you don’t need to act like a lobbyist for an introduction meeting. Just be prepared to say from personal experience how these issues affect you and others like you.
  3. On the day of the visit, don’t feel like you have to go overboard, but dress professionally (no shorts, etc.). If you don’t have some through work or a school club, print up some free business cards on the Internet with your contact information to leave behind. If you feel like bringing an article or a fact sheet about an issue you care about, go ahead, but that’s not required. First impressions count.
  4. Once you’re in the office, be friendly. If you usually disagree with the legislator, it’s okay to acknowledge that, just be clear that you’re visiting as a resource in the community and you’re eager to work together on areas where you can find common ground.
  5. When it’s time to go, shake hands and look them in the eye. Thank them for their time. A short follow-up email would be nice.

If you haven’t done this before, it might feel strange, but don’t worry. You don’t have to be an expert or an extrovert to pull this off well. The whole point of this meeting is to have a point of contact for a time that might come when you really, really need it.

What about you? Do you have experiences relationship-building with congressional offices? Tips? Glory stories? Share them in the comments.


Three Observations About Women And Today’s Gun Control Hearing

Struggling to speak, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords looked directly to the Senate Judiciary Committee: “You must act!” she said. Please watch her brief testimony if you have not done so already:

Rather than recapitulate the entire hearing (here’s a Storify of my live tweets throughout the  hearing if you’re interested) or make an argument for common-sense gun control measures, which I support, I’d rather like to use this occasion to make three observations about women and today’s gun control hearing:

No. 1: A refusal to take women’s views and violence against women seriously is **the** subtext of gun proliferation.

Disrespect for women is intimately interwoven with a lack of action on gun violence. The obvious overlap between Senators airing opposition to gun control today and Senators who led the charge to allow the Violence Against Women Act to expire for the first time in 18 years is not a coincidence. As C-SPAN first aired the hearing, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) blamed Attorney General Eric Holder, Operation Fast and Furious, anything he could for Newtown while the camera cut to two younger women in the audience with their arms crossed in disappointment. Remember when Mitt Romney blamed mass shootings on single mothers?

No. 2: Women and people of color have been left out of the gun debate for too long, and this limits our ability for change.

Of four witnesses who gave testimony and answered questions today, one was a woman. Zero were people of color. Watch the news shows and you’ll see the same dynamic. The result is an overabundance of a racially charged white male “self-defense” perspective, while ignoring the perspectives of communities most impacted by gun proliferation: women with abusive partners and people of color getting shot to death in the inner cities (rarely do these equally outrageous deaths make the news the way a massacre of whites at school, at work, or in a movie theater does). The one woman selected to be a witness was a shill for the gun manufacturers placed by Republicans on the committee. We’ll move to her bizarre comments next, but suffice it to say that Senate Democrats screwed up. While the party is clearly more inclusive of women at a policy level and within its ranks, it’s doing a bad job of representational diversity at the head table (not just in the hearing, in Obama’s cabinet nominations) — any job that isn’t 50% is a bad job. Certainly zero percent allows one reactionary woman — the Republicans tend to pick just one — standing on the other side of a group of progressive men to take and twist feminist rhetoric to her heart’s content.

No. 3: Rampant, unchecked gun proliferation is a terrible and lethal solution for a country wracked with violence against women. 

What we heard about women and guns from the “Independent Women’s Forum” witness was bunk and bizarre. Doing nothing about guns, as the gun manufacturers want us to do, will kill more women. Continuing to allow abusers who can’t buy a gun at a dealer to buy a gun from a private seller without the background check that would disqualify them will kill more women. Please take some time to read the facts about women and gun violence from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. In backing everything Wayne LaPierre and the National Rifle Association said, witness Gayle Trotter also managed to twist feminist rhetoric into something unrecognizable. Several times she made reference to “a woman’s second amendment freedom of choice” and even used the abortion rights caselaw buzzword “undue burden.” She also asserted that younger women were speaking up everywhere for AR-15s, and in a desperate attempt for justification reached into the sexism grab-bag and said we like them because of their “style.” I honestly can’t decide what I think: Did she invoke “freedom of choice” multiple times to appropriate feminist rhetoric (since she was the only woman speaking and the opportunity was wide open for her to do so) or was she trying to link massacres with abortion? Elsewhere she asserted that conceal/carry laws benefit women who don’t carry, presumably because men packing heat might protect that “freedom of choice.”

As Mark Kelly noted, a good guy with a gun did come running out of a Walgreens after his wife was shot. In the melee, he nearly shot the man who tackled Jared Loughner, the man who shot his wife, Gabby Giffords, to the ground. It’s shameful that her colleagues didn’t get it together after she was nearly killed, but the chance for progress is before us now. It is time for action on gun proliferation and violence against women.

A Younger Feminist’s Reflection on The Feminine Mystique

“The only way for a woman, or a man, to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by creative work of her own. There is no other way.” – Betty Friedan

Betty Friedan photo

It’s been fifty years since Betty Friedan wrote the The Feminine Mystique. How much has changed. How much remains the same.

Sexism is as foundational to society as it was during the Mad Men era that drove Betty Draper and Betty Friedan mad, if you ask me. The major difference is that people don’t smoke inside, and like colors and hemlines and shag carpets, oh the styles of expression are different.

For-men-only employment ads have jumped over to the lifestyle section of the newspaper, where you see presumed for-women-only feature articles about that ever-elusive “work/life balance.”

(Put no paid parenting leave; no childcare support; and no legal guarantee that you won’t get fired for asking what your coworkers are getting paid on a see-saw: Somehow it always seems to be the women dragged to the ground while men sit on top of Fortune 500 companies, law partnerships, and corporate boards almost totally by themselves. Most “work/life balance” experts say a super pink, super non-structural self-help approach will solve it, no government required! What a sexist joke.)

Only yesterday The New York Times published a column about “pro-life feminism,” in which a man sympathetic to the anti-human rights movement bringing you comparisons of pregnant women to farm animals, bills suggesting that women raped who have abortions be prosecuted for “tampering with evidence” and men-only congressional panels comparing the availability of birth control to choosing a place to go for lunch – a man sympathetic to all of that suggested that feminism be reformed. I beg your pardon.

But of course, the world has changed drastically since The Feminine Mystique, just look! Last week they said women would no longer be barred from combat, and daughters expect equality as do sons. Living up to the expectation of equality, and securing justice for those many experiences outside the realm of wealthy white men, has proved to be the continuing problem for the women’s movement to tackle.

Betty Friedan and her book, to say nothing of the first organization she founded, the National Organization for Women, have had outsize impact on my life as a feminist organizer.

I never knew Friedan personally, saw her across a room at a conference when I was an intern, and, you know, by then the women’s movement was so professionalized interns paid money in the form of tuition to get course credit for working free at the registration table.

When she died on a weekend in February 2006, I was in the National Organization for Women office chairing a meeting of the Young Feminist Task Force. I remember leading a moment of silence and thinking to myself what a profound responsibility I was accepting then, right then, to take the leadership required to help move feminism forward in a new way. I have never lost that feeling.

A few months ago, I decided taking meaningful leadership – contributing the most I have to give – meant leaving a big title in the big organization Friedan started. One of the key factors in my decision was realizing how many people, especially young people, were looking to me as an example of what was possible both in society and for their own lives. Believing in you, as I do, ultimately meant demonstrating I believe in myself and our power to create a better world.

I believe it is within our power to end sexism. I also believe getting there requires taking personal, interpersonal and structural risks. It requires acknowledging uncomfortable truths and working to change them. I believe younger people should define feminism for themselves and help lead the way forward. And while I am profoundly grateful for feminism and feminists of the past, I couldn’t be prouder to set this example. This is not an end. I am only getting started.

What would Friedan say about this? Honestly, I have no idea. As for me, I continue to take considerable inspiration from her legacy and The Feminine Mystique.

Gail Collins, a feminist of a different generation than myself, wrote a beautiful piece on ‘The Feminine Mystique’ at 50. In it, she pointed out more often the book is commented on for what it left out (basically anyone who wasn’t an upper middle class heterosexual white woman), rather than what it was (a piercingly accurate description of the waste of women like Betty).

Strangely enough, the waves of reaction in feminist thought went a bit too far in the other direction, in my opinion, when it became imperative for the incarnation of the women’s movement that followed The Feminine Mystique to speak declaratively “for all women” as if that was somehow possible to do really well. In my experience, people can speak profoundly well for themselves, and do both themselves and others a disservice when they try to speak for everyone else at the same time.

You cannot homogenize diversity, nor is it wise to try. It is the diversity that is the strength. It is the diversity that is the beautiful part. In encouraging diverse people to speak and lead for themselves (and having others listen and add their experience, not to change what the speaker said, but to speak and lead for themselves in the pursuit of an equality to be achievable in common by all) we can move the needle closer to justice. Modern feminism is already doing this all over the Internet. This is my experience and I deserve to be heard. That is your experience and you deserve to be heard. I know we can do better. We can be more than this. Let’s take a risk and organize something totally new and spectacular. It is very exciting, and dare I argue, a very inclusive expression of what Betty Friedan could have helped to kick off had her slice of reality, The Feminine Mystique, been published today.

Women In Combat – Now, Keep Pushing for ERA

If they’re willing to put their lives on the line, then we’re willing to say they deserve a chance. Leon Panetta, Defense Secretary, on ordering that the ban on women in combat be lifted.

After a period of transition, women will be as eligible to serve as men in military positions, including combat. Assignments will be made on the basis of skill, not the contents of one’s underpants. This is a seismic shift that is much bigger than the military.

In 1948, President Truman issued an executive order for the integration of men of color into the military. In 2011, President Obama certified a congressional bill repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which barred out non-heterosexuals from serving in the military. In both cases, more shifts followed in the broader culture.

So that moment is here for women. Will we take it?

With the removal of the ban on women in combat, one of the primary objections used to halt ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment has been — poof — erased. This is a strategic time to renew and redouble efforts to put these beautiful words into the Constitution:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

For those not familiar with the ERA, there are two primary ways to get it inserted into the Constitution. First, Congress can reintroduce the Equal Rights Amendment, as is done every year with the help of champions like Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), who joins other allies on Capitol Hill in being consistently awesome on this issue. After Congress adopts it, two-thirds of the states would need to ratify the ERA.

Another way to equality for women in the Constitution would be to have three additional states ratify the Equal Rights Amendment that was ratified by 35 states in the ’70s. Under this strategy, you typically see folks pouring the most energy into the following three unratified states: Florida, Illinois and Virginia. While Congress imposed a 1982 deadline for ratification of this version of the ERA, many constitutional scholars believe that this deadline would not be found valid in the courts — particularly because the Madison Amendment to the Constitution was introduced in 1789 and adopted in 1992.

Both strategies present an opportunity to finally secure a constitutional guarantee against sex discrimination (ironically, the vast majority of people in this country believes such a thing already exists). Under both strategies, state legislatures will be required to act. While support from the president and others would be nice, symbolically important to be sure, know that majority votes within state legislatures is where the decision-making power rests.

So what can we do? Well, I’d argue that women’s rights activists should take a page out of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, playbook. There were mainstream non-profit organizations that made arguments on Capitol Hill, and hosted lobby days, and sent action alerts, and no doubt, those actions helped. But I would also argue that the success of that repeal also had everything to do with activists who did not wait for permission from mainstream organizations, who were willing to take more radical actions, including non-violent civil disobedience as individuals and leveraging smaller, feistier grassroots groups with less investment in Washington culture. While the strategies are not the same, and it’s probably not practical to expect groups like these to work together for a variety of reasons, they are complimentary efforts building toward a common goal on the activist side. What we need now in the push for constitutional equality are more voices, not fewer.

Pressuring decision makers is great, but we should also think bigger. We should not just demand that decision makers do something, we need to be the decision makers ourselves.

Run for office. If you want to see the Equal Rights Amendment ratified, truly, I believe, the best thing you could do is to re-orient your thinking right now to say to yourself and others: “I’m thinking about running for my state legislature.” (This is a great strategy no matter where you live.) We need more women in public office for so many reasons.

For too long the Equal Rights Amendment has been represented as a time way back when, when some really terrific activists almost got us there. History is important. It’s important to teach and important to know. But even more important than the history is the doing, the now, the activists who are on fire (many of whom are part of the history, actually). When we sit around a fire, we look at the flames and not the logs. What we need now in the push for constitutional equality is more urgency, less history. Delightfully, Secretary Panetta has given us a boost we can choose to take now.

This post is dedicated to one of my favorite activists on fire, Zoe Nicholson, who fasted for 37 days in the Illinois statehouse demanding ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1982 — and continues, to this day, to focus relentlessly on what we and you can do now.

Open Letter from A Pregnant Reproductive Justice Advocate to A Pregnant Anti-Abortion Rights Counselor

Today is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the decision that affirmed a woman’s constitutional right to legal abortion. As an activist for reproductive justice, I have celebrated this day for several years.


But something has changed since this photograph was taken on a previous Roe anniversary: I’m pregnant. To be exact, I’m 21 weeks pregnant. I’m starting to show. And as I’ve written about, pregnancy has made me more committed to realizing the promise of reproductive justice – a world where the human right has been secured to prevent pregnancy, to end pregnancy, to pursue pregnancy, to get prenatal care, to be respected and supported adopting or bearing children regardless of race, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status, to health care and accurate education provided freely on the basis of science and medicine, to celebrate sexuality as a source for joy and humanity rather than shame and restriction in our lives.

Last week, I attended an excellent Roe 2.0: Strategies for the Next Generation of Reproductive Rights Activism panel discussion at the Center for American Progress. One of the things discussed on the panel was how restrictions on abortion rights have come to result in widespread interventions (even arrests) of pregnant women in the United States — even women with wanted pregnancies, like me. At the end of the discussion, I asked a question about engaging more pregnant women in the movement, since we have so much at stake.

After the session, an anti-abortion rights counselor from a ministry I won’t name for the sake of privacy came up to me with a pained look on her face, clutching her abdomen. “I’m pregnant too,” she said. “May I ask you a question?” She truly seemed to be shocked. And she was. Multiple times she asked if I had an ultrasound, and didn’t seeing my baby have an effect on me? Didn’t it change my view?

I believe her question was genuine. My open response, which includes what I said to her in person, is here:

Congratulations on your pregnancy! That’s wonderful. Yes, I saw my ultrasound. Trust me – I am just as excited as you are to have a baby. On a personal level, my support for abortion rights today is about my civil rights and my access to healthcare if something happens and I need it. 

(But didn’t you see your ultrasound? Weren’t you excited? How can you see your baby and support abortion?)

Trust me – I am just as excited as you are to have a baby. Restrictions on abortion rights have resulted in pregnant women who want to be pregnant like you and me getting thrown in jail, pregnant women having cesarean sections forced on them by the state and other legal interventions. I know I can handle my pregnancy and be trusted to do what is right — I don’t need the government getting involved. In fact, I think it’s dangerous. Further I don’t know what might happen. I could get sick. I could be denied medical care I need because of laws restricting abortion rights. I don’t want that to happen to me. And I don’t want that to happen to you, either. Congratulations again.

I strongly support and celebrate the right to abortion without shame, stigma or obstacles designed to make legal abortion practically impossible to obtain. Yet, the conversation needs to be broader to include those of us with wanted pregnancies who are placed in grave danger by outright bans, funding restrictions and other obstacles to abortion. In the past year we lost a happily pregnant, and later dangerously sick, Savita Halappanavar, who asked for an abortion that would have saved her life but couldn’t get one due to “pro-life” rigidity. There is nothing that justifies her death.

It is on this 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade that I wish for more people, especially pregnant women, women of color, and younger people, to move from the margins to the center of the conversation and political leadership that must ensure our human rights to full reproductive justice.

Stop Trivializing FLOTUS, Media (And Feminists)

Today Michelle Obama announced a new organization, Organizing for Action, that will take hold of the much vaunted list of names built by the Organizing for America Obama presidential campaign, and press the president’s agenda (which pieces and how strongly remains to be seen).

It is, as Joe Biden would say, a Big *#:D*C@ Deal.

In response, The Wall Street Journal is comparing her to Kim Kardashian because she just got a — breaking news — haircut, CBS News is all over the birthday bangs, and FOX News is running a poll about her new bangs: Do you guys like them?

Meanwhile the Washington Post took the opportunity to headline the Style section with a big story: Four years later, feminists split by Michelle Obama’s ‘work’ as first lady.

Does it need to be spelled out that Michelle Obama isn’t taken seriously by the media, to say nothing of the government that doesn’t pay her for her work as an official representative of the state, and that’s a national crime?

But I would like to return to the Post article about some white feminists’ less than enthusiastic appraisal of Michelle Obama. I am familiar with what the article refers to, and it extends beyond outcry when she proclaimed herself “Mom in Chief.” I have seen some criticism of her within white feminist quarters because she is into gardening.

Meanwhile the media is breathlessly covering her bangs and her arms and her clothes.

As I see it, this is not what feminism was supposed to do: Judging women for how they self-define, rather than judging the mainstream culture for devaluing women.

Any woman, any person, any human being, should be respected to self-define. This belief is at the core of my feminism. Michelle Obama wants to call herself “Mom in Chief” – great. Marissa Mayer wants to go right back to work after she has a baby – she alone knows best how to navigate her own work and family life. Oprah Winfrey wants to give Lance Armstrong another opportunity to be a total jerk in front of everyone for two nights in a row – okay, here we can draw the line (public actions are different than private life choices).

Michelle Obama is not respected because she is First Lady. The First Lady position has never been respected, and it has always been constrained. That’s a national crime. But, Michelle Obama is also not respected because she is a black woman, and that is equally a national crime.

Feminism is a social justice movement that is inextricably entwined with the racial justice movement, but the road has not been without hiccups, and there is still a long way to go. One of the spaces where I most see fellow white feminists tripping up is assuming that things frequently rejected along some (but certainly not all!) white feminists’ path to empowerment — motherhood, religion, sexy clothing — must be rejected by every woman, or empowerment is impossible for that woman and all women.

This is one of those areas where I think feminism is changing. The pressure to say an experience must be universal to be valid doesn’t hold as much water in an Internet-enabled era. In fact it is the sea of heterogenous particulars that makes us strong. The concept of feminisms, versus a feminism, is nothing new, and yet now more than ever before we are able to hear from different people, and realize that it’s okay — preferable — to be diverse in our emotions and interests and thoughts just as in our ethnicity and gender expression and sexuality (historically prized by feminists, however imperfectly).

Listening, and not telling, is at the core of where modern feminism is headed. Offering support, rather than requiring approval, is at the core of where modern feminism is headed.

The sub-par way that Michelle Obama is treated, both by the mainstream culture, as well as within some pockets of feminism, presents a major growth opportunity. Let’s take it.

PS – Are you into the broader ‘feminism is changing’ discussion? Mark your calendars to join me, Andrea Plaid, Gloria Feldt, Shelby Knox, Stacey Burns, Steph Herold, Veronica Arreola and tons of other activists and advocates for an #InterGenFem TweetChat on Thursday, Jan. 31 from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. EST. Save the date and tell your friends.

Planned Parenthood Is Moving On From “Choice” And That’s Just Fine

Just days ago, Planned Parenthood announced it would back away from the “pro-choice” label and move toward a no-labels approach in advocating its support for abortion rights and family planning. The organization will instead focus on how the full range of reproductive health care is critical for the different situations women can find themselves in.

This is a great move. While no one should expect the term “pro-choice” to go away anytime soon, and it will likely serve as useful shorthand for support of abortion rights and family planning for a long time to come, the language has been limiting to the breadth and depth of advocacy for full human rights, particularly in matters of sexuality, particularly for women. Adding more tools and new terminology to the toolbox is something to applaud.

Personally, when talking about abortion, I have always preferred to say I support abortion rights. “Pro-choice” struck me as the sort of casual conversation mechanism, something that implied the decision to continue or not continue a pregnancy was something best done over a latte and a Sunday crossword. It seems that everyone but the most extreme anti-abortion rights folks grants that’s not the case — that the decision to have an abortion or continue with a pregnancy is not some, oh gee, no big deal, that women aren’t totally and breathtakingly shallow and stupid.

When we’re talking about abortion, it’s okay to say abortion and specifically to make clear we’re talking about rights to have an abortion, or not having rights to have an abortion and forcing pregnant women to die if they happen to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is power in using real language.

For that matter, when we’re talking about contraception, it’s okay to say birth control or contraception. There is power in using real language here, too, especially when mainstream media outlets continue to perpetuate the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ complete and outright lie that no-copay contraception paid for by private insurance companies somehow includes “abortion-inducing drugs.” (Medical fact break: Contraception, including emergency contraception, works prior to pregnancy. Preventing pregnancy and ending pregnancy are two different things, boys.)

“Pro-choice” has been experienced as an economically limiting term, particularly since wanting an abortion and having a legal right to abortion has been prevented by discrimination in health care coverage (both private and public), forcing clinics to close to comply with million-dollar and medically unnecessary regulations, mandatory waiting periods that hit women far from clinics particularly hard, and other laws that make it impossible for many women to afford or otherwise get abortion. When federal and state governments bar coverage for abortion, “choice” is a term that applies only to those who can afford it: There is a lesser set of constitutional rights experienced by those who need abortions but must sell their cars, or go without groceries, or hope a local abortion fund has enough money to help.

Loretta Ross and others have for years pioneered a “reproductive justice” approach that resonates more with me. It is a more holistic, inclusive approach that deals not just with the right to abortion but also the right to parent, the right to adequate prenatal care, the right to respect raising children you may already have, the right to use affordable contraception, the right to dignified childbirth, and more. As an activist, and like many other millennial activists, reproductive justice is a shorthand umbrella term that resonates strongest with me.  It most comprehensively encapsulates what my activism is about.

Also as a pregnant woman, I have come to personally confront restrictions on abortion and reproductive health care in a new way. While I am happily pregnant, I am keenly aware of how being in the wrong place at the wrong time could get me into serious trouble. Restrictions aren’t about whether or not I want an abortion, they are not about my choice, they are not about one moment in time when I realized I was pregnant and contemplated what was next, they are about the fact that if I’m having a miscarriage, or really sick, or something else I can’t foresee happens … I could just die in a hospital because that’s what it means to be “pro-life.” Or because the National Right to Life Committee last year declared their “top legislative priority” to ban abortions at 20 weeks for women living in the District of Columbia, and I happen to be 20 weeks three days pregnant. Both of these are things House Republicans have been trying to pass. Further:

New research out from the National Advocates for Pregnant Women shows how anti-abortion rights, anti-birth control, and so-called “personhood” efforts are being used in practice to arrest and force treatment on pregnant women. Restrictions are not just restricting choice. They are restricting human rights, particularly for pregnant women and women who do not wish to become pregnant.

If you want a shorthand term, “pro-choice” is going to continue to work whether or not Planned Parenthood uses it. Chances are good I will continue to use it from time to time. More options are better and a healthy feminist movement of any kind, including a reproductive justice and human rights movement, is stronger with more approaches in the mix.

So that’s my take. How about yours? Do you prefer the term “pro-choice”? If you support reproductive rights, what language do you use?

20 Week Abortion Bans Don’t Work (From A 20 Weeks Happily Pregnant Woman)

In the last two years, nine states have attempted to pass laws banning abortion at 20 weeks. Arizona and Georgia have pending court cases on their constitutionality. Last year the National Right to Life Committee designated a 20 week abortion ban in the District of Columbia as their “top legislative priority.”

This has become incredibly personal to me, as I am now, as of tomorrow, a woman 20 weeks pregnant who lives in the District of Columbia. I’m thrilled to be pregnant. And I’m terrified of what these bans can do.

The overwhelming number of abortions — 98.5 percent — occur before the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Why would someone have a later abortion? Well, every story is going to be different and that’s why these uncompromising bans don’t work.

The joy I found today in looking at my ultrasound is simply not transferrable to every other pregnancy, nor should the law reflect an assumption that is so.

Why would a woman have an abortion after 20 weeks?

Sometimes a woman receiving that 20 week ultrasound is startled to hear: “Something appears to be wrong with the brain,” or “The heart isn’t working,” or another fetal abnormality that is incompatible with a quality of life she believes best to provide for a child of her own. Why should a bureaucrat be given power to second-guess her (or me or you)?

Other times a woman learns that she is struggling with a serious medical condition, such as cancer, and continuing the pregnancy means delaying chemotherapy or other potentially life-extending treatment. In this incredibly personal situation, why should the state provide more guidance to her (or me or you) than her (or my or your) family?

Still other times a woman has already lost or is losing a pregnancy, and abortion will complete the miscarriage. Sometimes this itself will allow that woman to live. This is what could have happened if Savita Hallapanavar, who was 17 weeks pregnant and miscarrying in Ireland, had not been denied a life-saving abortion she requested because, as she was told shortly before she died in the hospital, “It’s a Catholic country.” Why should any religion or state express its values in forcing her (or me or you) to give birth or die?

Another reason for seeking a later abortion: How about being flat broke? A grueling patchwork of federal and state abortion restrictions including mandatory waiting periods, regulations designed to close local clinics, sex discrimination in the form of denying private and/or state insurance coverage for reproductive health care, parental notification laws and much more have made it harder for a woman without much power who wishes to terminate her pregnancy to have the same constitutional rights as everyone else. Why should any legislator punish her (or me or you) for finally being able to sell her (or my or your) car to pay for the abortion desired weeks before, only to say, we’re not following the law of the land as laid out by the United States Supreme Court, we’re just going to say its too late for you?

The bottom line is that we simply do not know.

We have no standing to demand an answer.

We have an obligation to ensure that antiquated sexism, with men making the laws and women paying the price, doesn’t force pregnant women to die.

The bottom line is the ethical bankruptcy — and physical danger — of forcing beliefs on women that violate their fundamental right to self determination.

As a woman who is 20 weeks pregnant as of tomorrow, I’m pretty sure I got this covered. I do not see the National Right to Life Committee or Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who introduced the failed DC 20 Week Abortion Ban last session, or the greater “pro-life” [forced birth] community as a source of support during my pregnancy. In fact I look to them with fear of what they might force upon me, and other women like me, or you.

For what it’s worth, I found out in my ultrasound today that I will have a daughter. Let’s just say that I have never felt more fiercely determined to stop the misguided thinking that leads others to constrain her future (or mine or yours).

So Is This How We’re Supposed To Feel About Obama Appointing So Many White Men to The Cabinet?

“But he loves me loves me loves me, I know that he loves me anyway.”

Terrific song, but waking up to a headline like Obama’s Remade Inner Circle Has An All-Male Look, So Far is major pee on the cereal.

It doesn’t matter if President Barack Obama is doing a better job (43%) than President George W. Bush (33%) at appointing women. Women are 51% of the population. If sufficient progress for women means doing a better job than President George W. Bush (or the current Republican party agenda in general) rather than including women as full participants in all areas of society, daughters across this country can wave goodbye to a realistic prospect of equality in their lifetimes.

I like President Obama. I believe in my heart he wants to help advance the status of women and girls at home and around the world. It’s okay to like President Obama and make some demands.

Shrugging our shoulders and saying the Republicans wouldn’t confirm Susan Rice for Secretary of State doesn’t soothe. The Republicans are throwing a fit over Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, and the Obama administration is going to the mat for him. Why is the time right for another political battle when the appointee is a white man rather than a woman of color?

Deeds not words. Results not promises. Equality not “better than the Republicans.”

Time Magazine Is Right. We’re Losing On Abortion Rights. Time for Change.

This week’s Time cover story on the steady decline of abortion rights since the Roe decision 40 years ago details, painfully, the obvious.

Rather than reconstruct some of the excellent reactions out there, including Amanda Marcotte debunking Susan B. Anthony List’s ridiculous “pro-life feminist” reaction piece (serious delusion, in what universe is forcing a miscarrying Savita Halappanavar to die in the hands of a “pro-life” state a feminist policy framework), Katie Stack reminding us that while we may be losing, we don’t have to give up, and Steph Herold pushing back against the idea that young activists are making the movement weaker by taking their leadership outside the Pro-Choice, Inc., box, I’d like to simply say I agree with all of them and provide some additional food for thought.

Probably the most unique insight I provide is having served in leadership, as a younger woman, inside one of the larger establishment organizations so frequently painted in the media as unable to connect with younger people. There are realistic tweaks that could be made in many of these legacy organizations to help reverse this trend:

1. Put young people on your boards. Then, use them. Most organizations work with appointed boards filled with older women, most of whom pay their own way. Develop an affirmative action policy for younger people of all races, sexual orientations and economic backgrounds. Pay their way to board meetings. I have come to believe in my own experience that the perspective problem is not a numbers problem. There are extremely talented young people in all of these organizations. These young people are largely not being used on a strategic level. When they are used strategically, it is usually in a “junior” capacity, meaning they are specially chosen to be the one younger person to weigh in on this one specific intergenerational thing with a larger group of powerful, older, white, wealthy and heterosexual people who have already decided upon the agenda they are steering. This leads to efforts “about” or “to” young people, rather than “with” them.

2. Find a way to answer the following query: Am I supposed to go away? Legacy organizations are very familiar with the history I am about to describe. Women of color are underrepresented in membership, leadership, outreach, you keep going and you’ll find underrepresentation all over the place. Someone well-meaning, often a woman of color, brings to the group an initiative designed to bring in more women of color. Others get excited. Then, as the idea fleshes out, it requires changes to the rules, or doesn’t quite fit with previous efforts, or heaven forbid, there are a fixed number of seats at the table and it had always felt so comfortable when it was just Sheila, Annie and the remaining 27 of “us.” (The word us and how it can be misused to exclude!) Suddenly the 27 make the conversation all about them. What about me? Am I supposed to go away? Are you saying I’m irrelevant? Wait is this just that you secretly want to grab the power and kick me out of here? These feelings are natural but legacy organizations have been having them for decades without finding a way to address them, and they replace the conversations that sparked them, usually resulting in very few changes within the legacy organization, with the exception of Sheila and Annie leaving, who are then replaced with a few other tokens who try to make change, and the cycle continues. If you are curious whether this same dynamic applies to younger people (including younger people of color) in legacy organizations, the answer is sitting in plain sight. The similarity of these conversations should be used as an opportunity for serious reflection on the part of movement leaders who look like part of “the 27 of us.”

3. Be aggressive! Really, really aggressive. The health care law started with a concession that was never requested from pro-choice allies in Congress. Was this concession accepted? No. It was made worse. The answer is pretty simple: Stop trying to bargain with politicians and theocrats who are opposed to reproductive rights and human rights. Work to defeat them. Expose them. Ridicule them. Picket their events. Demand corporations stop partnering with them. Put public pressure on insurance companies that don’t offer abortion coverage. Invest. This is not an image problem you solve with a marketing consultant, this is an organizing problem you solve with investment in the grassroots! Go hyper-local: Use the city councils and county councils to regulate crisis pregnancy centers and hospitals receiving public dollars. Build budgets that don’t depend on small-dollar fundraising that publicizes every backward move (a conversation does need to be had about the financial incentives for legacy organizations behind threats to the status quo). Don’t be afraid to use the “A” word. Abortion! There is nothing to be ashamed of in this movement.

It’s time for change. The fortunate news is that social media is helping to usher in tons of opportunities for more people, of all backgrounds, to exercise meaningful leadership within the movement. It is also offering opportunities for more people, of all backgrounds, to personalize what is so political. Carefully scripted talking points and political connections have mitigated losses, maybe, but they have not led to gains. Change will be led by those both inside and outside the legacy movement organizations, and for the sake of all involved, that’s a good thing.